HILLSBOROUGH, N.C. — The story of Maple View Farm begins in Maine, and it begins in winter. Bob Nutter, now 87, grew up on his family’s dairy farm there, and unlike his bookish sisters, Bob had a knack for farm work and “liked everything about it.”
But in 1962, when he was 33, it snowed 42 inches between Christmas and New Year’s. “And the wind blew every day,” he remembers. That spring, Bob loaded three bull calves into a truck and delivered them one at a time to farms in New Jersey, North Carolina and Georgia.
“I got back home in April, and I told my father there was a better place to be in the dairy business,” Bob recalls. “And he said, ‘If you want to move, go on ahead,’ so we called the auctioneer Monday morning and we scheduled a sale and sold our milking cows. And then we came down here – me, my wife and five kids – and bought this farm.”
Making Their Way
“This farm” is 400 acres of green, rolling hills studded only by Bob’s house and the cluster of white buildings needed to keep and milk the cows and do the bottling. It’s one of those farms that looks exactly like the image you learned in childhood – a preserved gem that survives in the economically tricky spot between self-nourishing homesteading and industrial agriculture.
“We are a small enough company that the big people don’t bother us,” Bob says, letting out the sneaky laugh of a kid who’s gotten away with something good. “We sell all the milk we produce to local people.”
According to Bob’s son, Roger, the half-century of dairy farming has taught them what they can and cannot reasonably do in this market. They’ve focused on being local instead of being organic. They will probably not tinker with proteins in their milk to make it more digestible.
Over the years, there have been missteps and disasters, like when their cows helped themselves to wild onions in the pastures one spring and ended up producing milk that tasted noticeably of garlic. Roger winces and says, “Oh man, the phone rang off the hook about that: ‘What’d you do to your milk?’ People think they want grass-fed milk. Well, try it.”
Another spring, one of the two original silos wore out, its metal support bands creaking and popping before the whole thing fell like a tree, first cracking the other silo, then taking down power lines and finally coming down near a group of grazing cows. Miraculously, no animals were harmed, but it took three full days and the help of good neighbors to clean up the avalanche of grain, and neither silo has been usable since.
These days, the farm consists of about 325 cows, 160 of which will each produce 9 or 10 gallons of milk daily. In 1996, Bob realized that milk prices were so low that the only way to survive as a farm was to start doing their own bottling. He sold a chunk of the land and built a plant that would bottle Maple View’s milk in what has become their signature glass containers.
“We had people laugh at us, saying we’d be broke in six months,” Bob says. “And we’re still going.”
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